A new University of Louisville research-born startup is helping companies assess and improve organizational culture and drive innovation — even while navigating the myriad of culture shocks caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The startup — called UPOP, for “Underestimated People Of Purpose” — is built around a new cultural well-being survey and predictive analytics framework developed by UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences researchers Theo Edmonds, Cameron Lister, Molly O’Keefe and Sonali Salunkhe, along with Xian Brooks from the UofL Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The framework, Edmonds said, can help companies understand and improve their cultural well-being, which can be a critical advantage in recruiting, retaining and motivating top talent, driving innovation and surviving rapid, unexpected changes.

“As the culture shock of COVID-19 has disrupted everything, every company must become an entrepreneurial company again,” said Edmonds, research team leader and a co-founder of UPOP. “Economic resilience depends on cultural well-being and finding new ways to connect and co-create value with all stakeholders — both inside and outside the company.”

The cultural analytics technology measures three key areas: cultural actions (creativity and curiosity of employees); bridging actions (inclusion, hope, trust, belonging and health-related quality of life); and growth actions (social and economic value creation).

UPOP is launching with a national, COVID-19 specific survey, “Cultural Well-being and Innovation in the Time of COVID,” and plans to share results with founders, venture capitalists, industry groups, policy makers, higher education leaders and corporate executives in a series of briefs and webinars in late summer.

“One of the worthiest innovation challenges in the months and years ahead will be in creating new forms of cultural well-being in our places and spaces,” said UPOP Board Chair Dayna Neumann. “Cultural well-being is not about changing what came before, it’s about creating what comes next, together.”

The Cultural Well-being Index intellectual property is protected through UofL’s Commercialization EPI-Center, which works to commercialize university inventions by working with industry and entrepreneurs. UPOP worked with the EPI-Center to obtain an exclusive license.

UPOP is UofL’s first public benefit corporation spin-out. This means that UPOP is organized to devote some of its profits to supporting underrepresented and underestimated public health and humanities entrepreneurs and to supporting advanced research on workforce culture, resiliency and inclusive innovation. Edmonds said the company also is a certified LGBT Business Enterprise through the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.